Deputy Flanagan is always a hard act to follow. It is a welcome development that we have spent almost three hours discussing for the first time in the State the issue of abortion rights in a relatively positive way, albeit within limited scope. The discussion has been generally cordial and courteous, with a good tone and engaging debate. People constructively engaged in a balanced way and the fact that we are discussing the issue in the first place has helped to move it on, perhaps in society at large more than in here, if the comments from previous speakers are taken into account. The issue has touched every family and has often gone on with stigma and without discussion. I am very happy to be part of bringing such matters into the open.
Society is in a very different place from where it was even two decades ago. It is a scandal that this House and its legislators have failed to keep abreast of the issues and put sufficient legislation in place in accordance with the wishes of the people. It is good that we have heard different views, and that is part of democracy at work. There is nothing wrong with that and I respect other people's opinions. In voicing such opinions, people must back them up with facts, and some inaccuracies have been aired which I will correct. It is our responsibility in these debates to make informed contributions.
There was an argument that our Bill will open the floodgates and lead to a position of abortion on demand, but that is a ludicrous assertion. The Bill is incredibly limited and I am very sorry about that. I would like to see it with more scope but it solely provides for permissible abortion and guidelines for same in Ireland where the life of a woman is at risk, including the risk of suicide. There is no evidence that abortion being available increases the rate of abortion. The Irish abortion rate is just as high as it is in countries where abortion is freely available but the procedures do not happen here.
A number of Deputies referred to maternal mortality in hospitals. I am very proud of those hospitals and the issues are not linked, so it disingenuous to tie them together. There are countries with maternal mortality rates equal to our own where abortion is freely available. Our Bill will not affect the mortality rates and it is more likely they will be affected by cutbacks being proposed by the Government for the likes of the Rotunda, which has a capacity for 7,000 births in a year and saw 9,000 births last year. That hospital will see even more births this year and such issues, rather than this Bill, will jeopardise maternal mortality rates.
I reiterate the point made last night. The only reason there have not been more cases of women dying as a result of our inaction is that they travel, often when they are sick or unwell. Lives have been saved, not by this Parliament but by the safety valve of travel.
I wish to correct the mistaken idea that abortion has a negative psychological impact on women. This view is bandied around as if it is an accepted fact. The Royal College of Psychiatrists in Britain has carried out the most comprehensive review of this issue and its findings are clear. The rates of mental health problems among women with unwanted pregnancies are the same for those who have an abortion and those who keep their child. While some women who have abortions regret doing so, so too do some women who give up their children for adoption and some couples who delay having children only to find that they have left it too late. Is regret not part of life? We are not proposing that the solution to these tragedies is to introduce a ban on adoption or the compulsory rearing of children when couples are young. Why should it be any different in dealing with the issue of abortion? All the State can do in this scenario is provide supports for citizens to ensure that, where possible, they will not be faced with the challenge of unwanted pregnancy. Measures are needed to provide for sex education, proper contraception, early screening and early intervention and to ensure people are free from violence and enjoy economic circumstances that are sufficient to allow them to raise their children outside of poverty. However, when a woman needs to make a decision about an unwanted pregnancy, the role of the State should not be to interfere but to support and stand by her. The decision she must make is never easy and is always made for the best reasons in the circumstances. Instead of judging and condemning people, we should be dealing with these issues.
The Technical Group is aware and regrets that its Bill does not deal with all circumstances. The reason is precisely as Deputy Joe Higgins outlined, namely, that under current constitutional provisions, we can only legislate for the scenario addressed in the Bill. The most striking aspect of this debate is that every speaker has admitted, albeit grudgingly in a few cases, that we have to legislate for the judgment in the X case. Most have also acknowledged that this is the wish of the people and that such legislation is long overdue. While it is welcome to note that this is the viewpoint of the overwhelming majority of those who contributed to the debate, it raises the question as to why Deputies, as legislators, will not support the Bill. Only two reasons were cited for their failure to do so. According to the Minister, the Bill contains legal errors in the sections dealing with consent and penalties, respectively. We are open to having the two relevant sections amended. I note that the other sections dealing with the criteria for termination, right of appeal, duty of care on the medical establishment and so forth appear to be fine, which is great. In that case, why not allow the Bill to proceed to Committee Stage at which point it could be amended? Legal errors are not a sufficient reason to oppose the legislation.
The more favoured excuse used by speakers for failing to support the Bill was the existence of the expert group. We were told it should be allowed to get on with its work and that we had to await its findings which would be more comprehensive in scope than the Bill. The risk in taking such an approach is that we have heard similar arguments made many times during the years. In such cases we had much talk and nothing was delivered. The Dáil will be in recess when the expert group reports in July and will have a busy schedule when it returns. For this reason, it will be at least one year before alternative legislation is put before the House. Deputies who do not vote in favour of the Bill are condemning women and their doctors to exactly the same circumstances that have pertained for the past 20 years, in other words, women with unwanted pregnancies will be forced to travel. This is not good enough, particularly in the case of the Labour Party.
We want the Bill to be improved. To be fair to the Ministers of State, Deputies Kathleen Lynch and Róisín Shortall, they accepted that the expert group would not address broader issues than those addressed in the Bill. For example, it will not deal with the issue of access to abortion for medical reasons. Some Labour Party Deputies used this argument as a reason for not supporting the Bill. Their reasons do not stand up.
I accept the bona fides of many Deputies who agree with the position the Technical Group has adopted. As Opposition Deputies, we have limited means available to us to address matters such as this. On the other hand, the Deputies opposite are in government. After years of campaigning on various issues, what is the point of not using the opportunity presented by coming to power to implement and be a force for change?
I listened with horror to the very poor contributions made by Fianna Fáil Deputies last night. They exposed the reason that party has never delivered social change. The many young men in Fianna Fáil should take note that their party will go nowhere if it continues with its current approach. We had higher hopes of other parties. I ask Labour Party Deputies to look into themselves on this issue. In fairness, however, some members of the Cabinet spoke well in the debate. The Minister for Health, for instance, indicated he would not allow this to be the seventh consecutive Government to ignore the issue of abortion. I honestly and sincerely hope he is right. The expert group, the main reason most Government Deputies cited for not supporting the Bill, will produce its findings in a number of months. If the Government does not deliver on the commitments given by its Deputies in this debate, the Technical Group will return to the issue. We will also push the Bill to a vote.
That said, the House has done a service in airing these key issues which have been buried in society for too long. I look forward to discussing the issue again on the basis of a more enhanced provision than that which we are trying to make available today.